Director and producer Quentin Lee has brought his U.S. Comedy InvAsian series to Canada with Comedy Invasion, featuring breakout Canadian comics from disabled, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and/or female communities.
“In 2017, I had some Asian-American comic friends, and I always thought they were very talented, they struggled for a long time,” Lee told Yahoo Canada about the original development of this concept. “Then I thought, well what if I create a TV series called Comedy InvAsian with some of the comics that I know, and so that's kind of how it started.”
While the American series Comedy InvAsian (currently streaming on Peacock), which premiered in 2018, had a specific focus on Asian comedians, Lee broadened the scope for this Canadian spinoff.
A series of 30-minute sets, the comics featured on the first season of Canada's Comedy Invasion includes Davin Tong (aka Peter Chao), Desirée Walsh, Karla Marx, Alisha Dhillon, Victoria Banner, Yumi Nagashima, DJ On and Keith “Bubbas” Nahanee.
“Right around the last year, there has been a lot of push in Canada towards diversity and I thought, well what if I create a spinoff…and it's not just Asian, but it's all diverse and that includes BIPOC, LGBTQ+, female and disabled comics,” Lee said.
'I pitched it to every Canadian broadcaster...and no one would support us'
While this may, on the surface, seem like something Canadian companies would be jumping to air, Lee revealed that he could not get support from Canadian broadcasters.
I pitched it to every Canadian broadcaster, you name it from CBC to Bell to everybody and no one would support us, and then it so happens that I was able to find private equity investments that would like to invest in a Canadian content series. I was able to shoot it and then after the production, for distribution I brought it to every Canadian broadcaster and everybody passed on it.Quentin Lee, director and producer of Comedy InvAsian and Comedy Invasion
“It’s actually quite difficult to do a Canadian content project because you can't have any U.S. resources,...you really have to stick to, everybody's Canadian, from in front of the screen, behind the screen, and that's something that is a hoop to jump through already. It's ironic that even jumping through that hoop…there still isn't really support in terms of development and distribution for it.”
In terms of actually finding the comics to cast in the series, Lee has a keen eye for spotting relatively undiscovered talent, including just scouring YouTube and Google. In talking to some of these Canadian comics, it was clear that they didn't feel particularly supported.
“I talk to all these comics…[and they’re like] oh yeah Canada is just not really supportive of new comedians in general," Lee said. "Even a Just For Laughs festival, only really established comics get booked and all the new comics are not treated very well, and just in the general comedy scene, there hasn't been a lot of diversity, it’s mostly white males [dominating.]”
For Lee, Comedy Invasion is very much "a series of discovery."
“I really just tried to show you that there are so many comics out there that are so different from you and I, have very different perspectives. They're still extremely entertaining," Lee said.
“The audience should have a good time and maybe learn a little bit about the perspective of this comic. I think that to me this is really what diversity is all about... I don't see why we should just be limited watching established stars.”